As Father's Day 2012 approaches, let’s take stock of the significance of fathers in children’s lives by examining what the child-development research tells us about the effects of father absence. There is a much more nuanced picture than that painted by President Obama a year ago during his Father's Day address, in which he placed the blame squarely on “deadbeat” fathers.
Many of the ongoing conversations on fatherlessness deflect attention away from the root causes of the social problem in American society. Fathers’ tenuous presence in children’s lives is primarily the result of two key factors: divorce and out-of-wedlock childbearing. More often than not, in these arenas, fathers are forced to relinquish their primary responsibilities for their children by family-court judgments concerned primarily with maintaining fathers’ role as financial providers but shunning their involvement as active caregivers. This practice continues despite the gender convergence of child care roles in two-parent families, where fathers and mothers share active responsibility for the care of their children. Fathers have increased their involvement in raising kids while mothers work longer hours in paid employment, and fathers are no longer satisfied to play second fiddle as parents. Many fathers today enthusiastically assume their responsibilities as parents and define themselves first and foremost in relation to their caregiving role rather than their financial role.